There are films which are, as the reviewer’s favorite phrase goes, style over substance and there are films where the style *is* the substance.
Stoker is an almost entirely visual film – it could quite easily have no dialogue and be not much worse for it, although when there is dialogue it mostly lyrical, witty and worth the wait. Even the score punctuates the film sparsely but effectively.
This is a film that’s all about watching.
It is dovetailed by India’s monologue about how she sees things no-one else does. It’s voyeuristic in almost every possible sense. The characters watching each other through doors, windows, stolen glances and those long, stalkerish tracking shots at the wake. In Charlie’s case even watching India through the years themselves.
The symbolism of sneaking a peak at something through locked drawers, photographs and letters is everywhere.
And of course the way the viewer’s gaze is firmly positioned as the voyeur during both erotic and violent moments, the two blurring into each other on more than one occasion.
Like a lot of my favorite books and films Stoker is pregnant with unsaid things, sexual tensions, violent secrets – the truths (if there are any) are in the gaps between what happens rather than the plot itself. Like the empty seat at the piano it could all just be a mirage, or a specter – like the vampiric connotation of the family name. Everything is submerged between a somnambulistic, dreamy funk – personified in the moments Nicole Kidman’s character half-knows what lies beneath her family, both literally and metaphorically.
I can understand why this film is dividing critics and viewers alike because it’s a strange combination of over-the-top pot boiler and microscopic emotional minutiae at the same time. The performances are all a restrained kind of camp found almost exclusively in old noir thrillers and whilst the cinematography, set and costumes are lush and seductive it’s an iron fist in a velvet glove. It has one foot in ‘pretty’, one foot in ‘difficult’ and a more than slightly dubious moral compass – It’s a lovingly filmed spider on young girl’s inner thigh. Needles to say it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m happy to say I loved it.
I had planned on writing reviews of both Black Mirror and Utopia separately but I can’t help thinking about one when I think of the other. Two British, dark, dystopian series running concurrently with surely a very similar audience.
On paper Black Mirror covers areas that appeal to me more than Utopia – pop culture, media hysteria, and in particular, Brooker’s obsession with the frisson point between technology and human emotion. Utopia on the other hand sounds at it’s base level like a classic paranoid conspiracy theory. Even the titles would have me gravitating towards Black Mirror first – suggesting it’s as much about who we *are* as who we might become.
And yet Utopia succeeded in almost every way that Black Mirror has near-consistently failed me.
I’m not sure that the issue with Black Mirror lies entirely in the writing – the thing it is sold on – as the uneven execution. The drastic difference in stylistic tempos from episode to episode (and director to director) really is it biggest weakness for me. While ‘The Entire History of You’ (the absolute standout episode of the series for me, and in fairness probably good enough to justify the rest of the episodes on it own), ‘National Anthem’ and ‘Be Right Back’ were all directed with a sure, mature hand ‘White Bear’ and ’15 Million Merits’ were both so cheap looking and broadly directed that they felt more like slightly off cbeebies shows than anything being broadcast on late night Channel 4.
That said some of the ideas felt so slight and barely fleshed out (National Anthem surely was not much more than a good Brass Eye sketch?) that they buckled under the weight of the 45 minutes running time.
None of this would bother me if I didn’t think there was something there. Black Mirror is, or at least should be, exactly the kind of show we need to be producing more of in the UK and it’s frustrating to see it fall short of the mark.
Thankfully this frustration has been greatly salved by Utopia dropping it’s grinning yellow bag of death next to our feet.
What can I say without sounding like a fawning idiot?
Brutal, beautifully filmed and perfectly cast it’s everything I could have hoped for from it, and a little bit more. If I have any criticism it’s that I had hoped for a clean one series and out ending (it was obviously well plotted through a proper story arc so it was definitely possible) and instead it left me feeling a little cheated in the final moments. However, that’s a small price to pay for the series that preceded it.
I won’t say much more in this review because it’s exactly the kind of show that will be spoiled by knowing too much about it so I’l just round off by urging you to catch up with it on 4OD if you haven’t seen it yet.
The National Anthem – 6/10
15 Million Merits – 2/10
The Entire History of You – 10/10
Be Right Back – 5/10
White Bear – 3/10
The Waldo Moment – 4/10
Let’s just start off by saying that the ticket price is worth it for the three minutes that the camera is trained on Anne Hathaway’s face as she re-writes the book on how to perform I Dreamed a Dream alone. The word ‘mesmerizing’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.
That out of the way I think this stage to screen adaptation is on the whole an absolute triumph. Taking advantage of the opportunities for both large sweeping vistas and claustrophobic close-ups that the stage cannot offer Tom Hooper has directed this in a way that adds to the stage production rather than simply recreates it. It does at points creep into being a little visually overblown for my taste (Lovely Ladies being most notable) but this is offset by the fact that, being pure melodrama at heart, most of the cast spend the film makeup-less and crying!
I heard some early reports that the soundtrack sounded disappointing and / or bad and having now seen it I can understand why. Much of the score is sung / acted as oposed to belted the way you have to do in the theatre to reach the back. I’m not sure it will be a score I will want to sit and listen to much but performing it this way was so, so much more interesting to watch.
However, as you may have heard, it has to be said that Russel Crowe’s voice is frankly completely honking. It’s such a shame because I was really excited by his casting and while physically he looks the part not only is his singing not up to scratch but he also looks seriously out of his depth much of the time too. This is a *real* shame because not only does he sing two of my favorite songs in the show but , despite Hugh Jackman acting his socks off, it also impacted negatively on the central relationship between Jean Val Jean and Javert for me. (Whilst I’m being critical I also wish they had left the Thénardiers reprise in the sewers while they were looting the dead – it’s such an eerie scene in the stage show and a lovely dark mirror to the earlier number – but that’s a minor grumble.)
Thankfully there was so much else to enjoy (and it’s a credit to how good the rest of the cast were) that this didn’t in any way ruin the film for me. In the past I’ve never been that interested in either the Marius / Cossette plot or Fantine but both of these stories really flourish in the film. Amada Seyfried just gets more adorable by the day and Heart Full Of Love was particularly beautiful despite being a song I’ve never much cared for before. The surprising standout for me though was Aaron Tveit who I literally couldn’t take my eyes off and lit up the scenes centered around the revolution.
So, yes, on the whole an absolute knockout, and as a big fan of the show a huge relief. Do catch it in the cinema if you can. Take a box of tissues and a cold compress when you go though 😉
I was lucky enough to see a showing of American Mary on it’s limited release tour at the weekend. Shot in 15 days (!!!) as I found out at the Q&A after this is a very, very strong first time foray into mainstream-release territory for directors the Soska sisters.
Predominantly a (very) black comedy splattered with moments of empathy and pathos. As much as it’s it’s all about blood and horror and ‘horrible’ things it’s not really trying to scare you and it’s surprisingly not that graphic either, well – as these things go. It also has quite a lot to say for itself philosophically which is getting rarer than the dodo in contemporary horror.
Katharine Isabelle (of Ginger Snaps fame) is charismatic and nuanced in the lead role – a role that in less steady hands could have ended up flat out unlike-able. However it was Tristan Risk as Betty Boop obsessive Beatrice that stole the film for me. One of the standout performances of my year I think.
It’s a crying shame it’s got such a limited release because it feels very mainstream friendly – not in the sense of being ‘safe’ but because it’s beautifully shot and feels very accomplished. It could easily have had a major release with the right publicity. Whilst the the film itself is ‘alternative’ in the sense that it features unconventional body modification and lots of latex it’s put together with a surprisingly sophisticated and mature touch.
I found it to be charming and funny and beautiful to look at. It does have some flaws and there are a few scenes in it that fell a bit flat for me but on the whole I thought it was fantastic and if you can’t catch it in the cinema please snap up the DVD on the 21st.
This documentary is a must for any Hole fan not just for the, often heartbreaking, old footage but for offering us up the time to appreciate exactly how good a drummer Patty was and what a lovely woman she appears to be now.
More than a rockumentary though, Hit So Hard is a devastating portrait of addiction and excess. Not just excess in the pursuit of entertainment or escapism but excess of emotion, of anger, of energy, of passion and the blaze that these often difficult, selfish, self-destructive people set fire to for the world to warm their hands around. Being a rock fan can be a vicarious, morally dubious thing at times and this film underlines precisely why.
It’s also a worthwhile reminder of the still-fragile place of women in the industry. Will we ever see another band like Hole again? I hope so, but I suspect not any time soon.
MM collector Gene London (also a former children’s TV host and fashion designer) brought one of his most prized possessions – a sketch by Marilyn, Myself Exercising – to the UK recently for an appearance on Channel 4′s antiques show, Four Rooms.
London was offered £150,000 by dealer Jeff Salmon but, incredibly, turned it down. I can understand why – not from a financial point of view – but to me, that sketch is one of the loveliest things Marilyn left behind. It should either go to someone who truly adores it, or preferably, be donated to a museum.
UK readers can watch the show here (the sketch is the final item, saving the best for last.)
I just watched this tonight – it’s only the second episode I’ve seen of the program and I quite like it – but I agree, I wouldn’t have sold it to them either. The poor man clearly loved it the way it should be loved and I’m not convinced he really wanted to sell it at all.
He said he wanted to sell it to buy costumes at a forthcoming auction, but personally I would far rather own this than a dress – even ‘the’ dress.
Marge Sherwood: The thing with Dickie… it’s like the sun shines on you, and it’s glorious. And then he forgets you and it’s very, very cold.
Tom Ripley: So I’m learning.
Marge Sherwood: When you have his attention, you feel like you’re the only person in the world, that’s why everybody loves him so much.
Warning: this post is spoilerific from the outset!
So that’s Dexter over for another year – though arguably to many people’s surprise not for good. Having had 24 hours to digest the series finale I thought I would jot down a few of my feelings about it.
On the positive side the acting delivered by all the central characters was, as always, superb with stand-out guest roles from Julia Stiles (Lumen) and Johnny Lee Miller (Jordan Chase). I really enjoyed the relationship with Lumen and was surprised how successfuly they managed to evoke empathy without creating either a martyr or villain of her. Several of the episodes were extremely tense (though nothing has yet managed to rival the Doakes showdown in series two) and on the whole the Barrel Girls plot line was entertaining – if not as elegant or gothically beautiful as The Ice Truck Killer or Trinity.
On the other hand I can’t help wondering where Dexter – as a character and a series – has left to go. Between Rudy, Rita, Lila, Miguel and now Lumen I feel like we have explored the gamut of credible relationships for Dexter. Other than some sort of Lila / Lumen hybrid Natural Born Killers scenario (which would feel like a huge retread) then I think it’s safe to say that Dexter is on his own now. The end of this season was incredibly downbeat (far more so than Rita’s death for me) and sort of dumped Dexter right back where he started – disconected, bewildered and completely alone. Where do you take a character like that other than further down? Part of Dexter’s stregnth has always been it’s delicate tightrope between light and dark – murder scenes scored with salsa music – but increasingly the character is travelling a road where humour feels unwelcome.
The one thing that I expected to happen in this series that didn’t was for Dexter to begin to drop the code and go a bit wild and trigger-happy after Rita’s death – it seemed to hint at this in the first episode too when he beat up the guy in the gas station bathroom. I was expecting to have his character pushed in a more chaotic and unsustainable direction to force the inevitable end – be that Deb catching him in the act, a boat-ride into the sunset or some grizlier demise.
I couldn’t help feeling let down that Deb didn’t whip back that plastic sheeting instead of hitting the great plot reset button and leaving. Deb is now really the only character left that Dexter has any meaningful relationship with – the kids are more like plot props than characters the viewers actually care about – it surely has to be her that either brings him in or set’s him free in the end..
Obviously Showtime have a massive cash cow on their hands and although the plot has been feeling the strain since series 3 the show is more popular now than it’s ever been. I can’t help being concerned that they will continue to eak it out until Michael C Hall decides to throw the towel in.
Dexter’s bad is still better than most show’s brilliant and it would have to get far, far worse before I would even consider not watching it. However, like a great meal no matter how good it tastes I will get full up eventually.